Saturday, 16 January, 2021

House Dissolution PM Takes Pre-emptive Move

Narayan Upadhyay


With internal strife in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) touching its zenith, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli took the 'compulsive step' to dissolve the House of Representatives (HoR) and called for snap polls next year. The dissolution of the Lower House has come as a pre-emptive move to avoid the censure motion after a majority of NCP’s lawmakers tried summoning a special House session to oust him. Oli got the whiff of coming troubles, spurring him to take what many labelled as an extreme step. His supporters, however, dubbed the step as a compulsive but decisive factor against his rivals' design to censure him.
The HoR dissolution has sent shock waves among the PM Oli's rivals and other political parties who called the move as a ‘constitutional coup’. After the PM took the extreme step of terminating the Lower House of Parliament, the NCP that had unified 30 months back, faces a sure split.
Following the PM's preventive move, the rival party faction, led by co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and Madhav Kumar Nepal, were quick to rap the PM, citing the dissolution as an 'unconstitutional, undemocratic, regressive and authoritarian step,' which is an affront on the people's mandate to the party. For them, it has also cast a shadow on the federal republic system that the nation has opted through the people's struggles. The dissatisfied 'majority' NCP Standing and Central Committee members decided to take disciplinary action against the party chair and the Prime Minister.

Fluid situation
The unfolding political events have polarised the nation's politics as major opposition parties, the Nepali Congress, Janata Samajbadi and the NCP rival faction have jointly protested the dissolution. They will hit the streets against the PM's latest decision that has resulted in a fluid political situation.
In the meantime, many legal experts and some disgruntled groups moved the court against the HoR dissolution. They have registered petitions seeking to restore the dissolved Lower House. Many legal experts in the country contended that the current constitution did not grant prerogative to the Prime Minister to dissolve the House as he enjoys backing from most of the parliamentarians. As per the constitutional provisions, if a prime minister fails to prove his majority in a hung-parliament within the first 30 days of its convening, s/he can dissolve it to seek a fresh mandate. Since he followed none of these provisions in the HoR, the PM enjoyed no special right to dissolve the House.
The issue regarding the constitutional provisions about the dissolution of the House has already reached the Supreme Court, the ultimate body to interpret the clauses and matters pertaining to the constitution. For the next several days, people and political watchers will train their eyes on the court hearing. Until the court issues its verdict, the fate of the present government will hang in the balance. In case the court restores the parliament, the PM may suffer the worst: his rivals within and outside of his party will swiftly seek to overthrow him through a no-confidence vote.
Meanwhile, it is surprising to see the NCP that won a resounding majority in the parliamentary polls in 2017 could not survive its entire five-year term. Formed after two erstwhile communist parties – CPN-UML and CPN- Maoist Centre had merged three years ago, the ruling dispensation has confronted an existential crisis.
Given the current level of bickering, Oli had no other option but to take the pre-emptive step. As the party opponents pressed hard against him, he found the HoR termination as the most favoured way to deliver a massive blow to his adversaries. The premier in the past had warned that he would have no problems in splitting the party if his challengers would continue piling pressures on him.
The party rivals forced him to quit one of two positions as per party’s principle of One Leader One Post, which he denied. He would not quit any posts and challenged the opponents to take whatever step they liked against him. Oli's tough stance coupled with his recent introduction of an ordinance to some provisions of the Constitutional Council had pushed his adversaries to pursue his ouster through a special parliament session. The act finally culminated in the HoR's sudden termination.
The latest event reminded us of another piece of the irony of Nepali politics. Ever since democracy was restored in 1991, no party has completed its full-term in office due mainly to their intra-party disagreements and squabbles, which ultimately tore them apart. In the 1990s, the then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who headed the majority Nepali Congress government, dissolved the then parliament and declared snap polls after a section of the NC parliamentarians did not support his government's policy and programmes.
Next time when the Nepali Congress won the elections in 1998, Koirala's tussle with Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and later with Sher Bahadur Deuba saw the largest party in the House split in two. The differences over the Mahakali River agreement with India in the mid-1990s had seen the then UML suffering a breakup.
The full-blown conflict in the NCP has undermined the people's resounding mandate to the unified communist party and deal a blow to the communist movement. The people who voted for the NCP must have felt cheated. The pledges of political stability and economic development all came crashing. The NCP leaders could not fully utilise the near two-thirds majority for implementing their policies and programmes, which they had promised to their voters through the party manifesto.

Instead of engaging in the nation-building works by promoting socialism-oriented programmes, which would have enhanced their prestige among the masses, they continued to get involved in frustrating bickering over posts and power that took the unified party back to where they once belonged: the time when both communist parties were struggling for gaining people's support. When the leaders of the communist parties go seeking votes in the polls in April and May next year, they will have one quandary in mind: How to face the same electorates who had once shown so much faith in them through a massive mandate.

(Upadhyay is Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal. 

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